Thoughts on Climate, Oil and Nuclear Power
Cyril endorsed the view exptressed by John Preston in the December Pump and adds his views to the debate
The recent monthly debates in the Village Pump on the above topics have highlighted the challenges and problems that these matters pose for us all. Before further comment on the subject let me first say how much I appreciated John C. Preston's article in the December issue and how much I agree with him. Judging by the contents of his final paragraph, John certainly intends to heed the dictum think globally - act locally. All power to his resolution!
Climate Change: As far as I can gather there is a consensus of agreement between the majority of scientists who study climate change that global warming is indeed happening. Just how much of this is attributable to industrial pollution is far from easy to determine. However, bearing in mind the exponential rate of increase in this pollution over the past 150 years or so, I believe that it will have made a significant contribution and, therefore, that we have a duty to reduce it in any way we are able.
Nuclear Power: At first sight this seems a wonderful solution to the problem: we can produce electricity without any carbon emissions. However this is not so when considered over the whole process. Carbon dioxide is produced in the mining, milling and the enrichment of the fuel; next in construction of the power station; then, finally in handling the spent fuel. And here of course comes the final sting in the tail: the radioactive waste that has to be stored for thousands of years, again involving some kind of industrial provision for making and dealing with the containers. More long-term pollution to be bequeathed to future generations, either in the ground or in the oceans. We are told how we are running out of 'landfill' space - but it seems that we are not averse to using it for radioactive waste! I wonder what influence there has been on the nuclear decision by business and politics! Also, what of the principle that the polluter should pay? No doubt the energy producers would expect the clean-up costs to be picked up, as usual, by the taxpayer. I believe that we should pay much more attention to the development of the various forms of renewable energy.
Peak Oil: The date for world oil supplies reaching their peak cannot be given exactly; if not here already, we know it will arrive in the near future. As John has pointed out 'it would be smart to plan how we are going to live without the luxury of fossil fuels. Oil is 'the substance that underpins all we take for granted in our consumerist lifestyle.' Perhaps the most important item that oil underpins is our FOOD. Modern farming methods are virtually 100% reliant on oil: for fertilisers, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides; the power for cultivating, spraying, harvesting, drying, storing etc. Then comes the transport to get it to the supermarket shelves, with the immense number of 'food miles' that this involves under the present central distribution networks of the supermarkets. A further problem is the fact that the demand for oil continually increases. One indication of this can be seen in the stated intentions of the oil giant Shell, who have just landed a deal to develop the large Mangoon oil-field near Basra (see EDP business section 12/12/09). They intend to raise production from the current 45,900 barrels to 1. 8 million barrels per day. Most certainly, the 'downhill' period for oil now beginning, will not last as long as the period of use up to the present.
A further consideration for the UK is that we are by no means self-sufficient in food production. At the highest our self-sufficiency can be put at 60% - on some estimates it is regarded as only 49%. One factor in this, for example, is the amount of agricultural produce such as protein for animal feedstuffs that we import for feeding our own animals. The land on which this extra produce is grown has been called ghost acreage: in other words the extra produce we are using was grown on the acres of other lands. This comes of course by way of trade; but how long I wonder, in view of the increasing world population is this likely to continue? Our government seems to believe that it can last for ever, for immigration into this overcrowded island of ours seems to continue almost unchecked!
To whom do we look then to start John's 'powering down' process; for the 'creativity, ingenuity and adaptability' needed for 're-inventing a society that puts the welfare of all above profit'? NOT, I suggest, the Government, NOR the big corporations driven as they are by 'greed, business and politics'. Sensible answers, I fear, are only likely from non-Governmental organisations (NGOs). As an excellent local beginning of the process, 'Downham and Villages in Transition' is a good example and I wish them every success.